Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why aren't other MMORPGs doing better?

Ghostcrawler, a.k.a Greg Street, who is the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, recently advised WoW players to play other games:
Although WoW is a gigantic game, some players are just going to voraciously devour whatever content we can throw at them. There are certainly a lot of different ways to play the game that you can experiment with if you do get bored. I would suggest things like trade skills, achievements or completing all of the quests you might have skipped. Collect some offspec gear and try a different role (in PvP or PvE). Rerolling can also be a lot of fun. If you're just burned out, it's also not the worst thing in the world to try out some other games -- the past couple of years has been great for them. Just check back in with WoW every now and then. :)
Hmmm, sound advice I'd say. I'm already starting a bit to look around for other games, while waiting for patch 3.1. But I find that not many people are taking Ghostcrawler's advice; other MMORPGs than WoW are not doing all that great.

This week's news was that Age of Conan lost $23.3 million last quarter, after their subscriber base shrunk to less than 100,000. Or as they say,
Shorter average subscription periods than anticipated led to a decline in the number of subscribers following the launch of Age of Conan.
Yeah, right, that is one way to say that over 6 out of 7 people who bought AoC quit the game shortly afterwards. Funcom's chief financial officer has resigned, probably more in a desire to get out early than because anyone thinks that it was the CFO's fault that AoC bombed.

And Age of Conan isn't an isolated case. Pretty much every MMORPG except WoW is either keeping very silent about subscription numbers, or posting rather disappointing results. And all those news of layoffs aren't exactly painting a rosy picture of the industry either at the moment. So, if even Blizzard admits that they can't produce content fast enough and advises people to check out other games, why aren't those other games doing better?

One possibility is that people taking a break from WoW are taking a break from all MMORPGs, and rather play let's say Call of Duty or other single-player games. But personally I found that single-player games are extremely short in comparison with MMORPGs, and many, even good games, can be played through in a single weekend. And PC games sales figures aren't really all that good lately either.

So, in a context of economic crisis, are people playing Free2Play games instead? Predicting player figures for MMOs is hard, but you'll often hear multi-million player numbers mentioned for various Free2Play games. Of course these figures have to be taken with a large grain of salt: People tend to unsubscribe from games they don't play any more if they cost $15 per month, but never bother to unsubscribe from Free2Play games. So it is hard to say how many people are actually playing these games day by day.

While there is a lot of garbage among Free2Play games, there are some real gems too. Wizard101, one of the nicer games you can download and play for free (at least for some time), recently announced having 1 million players. Although that is registered players again, not subscribers, or maximum concurrent users. Nevertheless it is easy to imagine how the better Free2Play games could make life difficult for the less good monthly-fee games. Age of Conan wasn't completely bad, but seeing that you can play a game with a similar quality level for free really makes you wonder if AoC is worth it's monthly fee. For exactly the same monthly fee you could play World of Warcraft, and most games will find it hard to argue that they offer the same amount of content and quality as WoW does now. Why drive in a Honda Accord if you can get a Rolls Royce for the same money?

So I'm wondering whether it is the $15 standard price tag that is making life difficult for some MMORPGs. Free2Try games like Wizard101 or Puzzle Pirates appear to do better with a $9.95 monthly fee, or other payment options like microtransactions. Games that come with a cheaper price tag have the big advantage of not being automatically compared to World of Warcraft. And games with microtransactions at least *seem* to be cheaper than monthly fee games, even if ultimately you end up paying the same or more. Are games like Age of Conan simply too expensive for what they offer?

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